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Rocket's Fall Launch

| 12/7/2016 12:00:00 AM

In an attempt to extend Summer’s flavor, I filled a cookie sheet with green tomatoes and placed it on a pantry shelf.  Last night, we enjoyed sandwiches with the season’s last large slicing tomato.  Although it is a variety called Pineapple, I label this special tomato plant with the name of the man who shared seeds with me.  Ralph Triplett, Harley-Davidson rider, blueberry farmer and volunteer barber, also grows delicious tomatoes and to properly honor fruit that will be absent from my table until July, I chose a special green to pair with the Ralph tomato.

           arugula leaves

After first planting seeds in 2008, arugula, nutty, peppery and addictive, quickly proved to be a family favorite Fall and Spring crop. Unaware of “arugula-gate” at the time, I included arugula seeds with my catalog order because I found the description intriguing.  Presidential hopeful Barack Obama, for readers unaware of details surrounding “arugula-gate,” lamented the price of arugula at Whole Foods, in an attempt to highlight farmers’ plight to profitably sell produce.  The comment backfired and critics labeled Obama an elitist for eating an inexpensive, exotic green.  Perhaps those critics were unaware of arugula's history and worldwide popularity.  Thankfully, this delicious herb is increasingly stocked in US kitchens and anyone who has a few seeds and a bit of soil can grow and enjoy this tasty treat.

Originally hailing from the Mediterranean, arugula, eruca sativa, is a worldly plant, called roquette, rucoli, rucola and garden rocket or simply “rocket” to British gardeners.  Nutritionally, arugula is packed with Vitamins C, A and K and at only about eight calories for a two-cup serving, is an excellent choice for weight management.  According to the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index, arugula is one of the most nutrient-dense foods, packed with substances that promote good blood pressure, eye health and cardiovascular function, along with other health benefits.  Although I could find no clinical research to support a persistent belief about arugula, for thousands of years, this leafy green, purported to contain aphrodisaical powers, was ingested for sexual health.  Roman poet Virgil wrote that arugula “excites the sexual desire of drowsy people.” 

Far less expensive than Viagra, easy to grow, nutritionally packed with health benefits and delicious, to boot, perhaps it is time for Americans to stop calling this plant by a name that makes it sound exotic, medicinal and expensive.  I vote with the Brits: Rocket, a name that befits a plant that grows extremely quickly.  Somehow, I think Virgil would approve that moniker.

If you would like to grow your own rocket, the plant thrives in most soil types and grows equally well in the garden or a large container.  Sow seeds successively to maintain a crop of baby leaves, but allow mature plants to bloom and enjoy the edible blossoms with salads or as garnishes.  Be sure to leave some seed pods to dry and harvest the seeds to use in the kitchen or plant the next growing season.  Saving seeds results in almost no cost to continually grow fresh rocket.  With that practice, we can all work together to remove the elitist tag from a plant that never deserved to be designated as such.

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